It absolutely breaks my heart to say this, but the New Beverly Cinema that have I loved and stood so ardently for – and that I believe so many of you out there love and stand up for – is gone.
The first time I walked into the New Beverly Cinema in October of 2001, I heard a little voice inside me say: “This is where you belong.”
It felt like home.
I loved that the theater was slightly shabby, that the prices were too cheap, the butter was still real, the films were still on film. I loved the kooky cast of characters working there, and the even kookier regulars who came to watch the films.
All you needed to be welcomed with open arms was a love of film.
Here was a place that was never about money or power, but solely about the love of cinema.
A quixotic throwback to a time when ideals meant something.
Run by a family, and casual to a fault, the New Bev seemed to me a time machine back to 1978 – when the theater opened – when revival cinemas were king.
I asked Sherman Torgan – then the owner – for a job that first day and every time I returned for five years. I knew I had to work there. I would wait as long as it took.
Eventually, he gave up one of his own shifts for me, and I started working at the Bev in May of 2006.
I was over the moon.
Shortly after I started, Sherman asked why he hadn’t hired me five years ago. He was astounded and amused by my youthful enthusiasm for the theater, which brimmed over in bucketfuls. He told me I breathed new life into the stagnant theater. Even stocking the candy counters made me happy – I was finally part of The New Beverly Cinema! The best movie theater in the world!
Over the past eight years, I felt I have given more of myself to the theater than I had to give. I have loved that place with all of me, and have told every soul I came in contact with about how absolutely fantastic it is. I have loved it more than any person should love a theater.
And now everything I have been fighting for with all of my heart all this time has just been taken away.
I can’t fight anymore.
I am done.
But let’s back up a bit, shall we?
Mid July of this year, I was summoned to a meeting at Quentin Tarantino’s house and informed that as of October 1st, 2014, Quentin would be taking over ownership of the New Beverly Cinema, and that I – along with Brian Quinn, who has run our Grindhouse nights for years – was to be one of the co-managers of the 35mm-only-from-now-on-forever-and-ever-amen Bev.
You can imagine how I felt – personally hand-picked by Quentin Tarantino to run his movie theater in Hollywood! A dream come true!
And I was being promoted to a salaried manager position! I made slightly less than $14,000 in 2013, so the thought of making nearly four times that – with paid vacation and health benefits – was dizzying. Living paycheck to paycheck and being on food stamps at 35 years old is a sobering feeling – one I was ecstatic to say goodbye to.
I was, as far as I understood it, to be the public face of the theater – to conduct guest interviews, run the social media outlets and to be front and center in the box office – the first face that the customers would see.
I take my box office position very seriously. I feel that it is my job to welcome every single person who walks through that door, and make them feel like they are part of something unique. I get to welcome them to the coolest movie theater and because I genuinely love the place, this task is a delight.
I was so excited to tell everyone about all of the exciting upgrades the theater was going to get!
Instead, a social media muzzling was immediately ordered.
I was not allowed to instagram, twitter, facebook, blog, or in any other way talk publicly about what was happening with the New Beverly.
I am a very open person and love sharing my life online. It hurt to ignore the dozens of emails, phone calls and texts asking me what was happening with the theater.
If I ignored you, I’m sorry.
I was censored.
This social media muzzling eventually became a confidentiality agreement that I refused to sign which would forbid me to say anything at all, on any public forum, about my job, the New Beverly Cinema or Quentin Tarantino.
Any violation of this agreement – and they would be constantly monitoring my social media outlets –was grounds for immediate dismissal.
Why would you want to silence your employees from saying good things about your business?
Because that is all I would ever say about the Bev.
This monitoring soon became physical as well – we were welcomed into work last week with cameras absolutely everywhere. Not only watching the box office and snack bar, where the money is, but the manager’s office and projection booth as well.
We weren’t being protected, we were being watched.
When I asked to know who was watching the monitors, I was ignored.
In the six weeks I worked with this new management “team”, which hypothetically included Julie McLean – Quentin’s personal assistant – Brian Quinn and projectionist Jeff Nowicki, I was left feeling completely vulnerable and isolated.
Although I was now a manager in title, I was never given any job parameters or instructions.
I was constantly left in the dark, my emails unanswered.
Emails about the status of our social media.
Emails about why showtimes aren’t easy to find online.
Emails about our inventory, about the theater, about my position.
Emails asking for help.
I was completely frozen out.
In fact Julie, my immediate superior, hasn’t answered an email of mine since October 3rd.
And yet, I was supposed to be managing a theater during all of this time.
This past Monday morning I was called to a last minute meeting by Julie McLean – the new general manager of the Bev – who informed me that, although I had only started my new position less than two weeks before, she had come to the conclusion that I was not manager material.
Effective immediately, I was to be demoted to snack bar, with no shifts guaranteed. In layman’s terms: I won’t fire you, because then I would have to pay unemployment, but I simply won’t schedule you – which forces resignation.
She assured me that any argument was useless. No, I was not allowed to state my side of the case, nor could I talk to Quentin. She had already assured him that this was the best move for the theater, and he had given his consent to allow her ultimate power in all decisions regarding the theater.
She wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say, and found all of my arguments “bordering on insubordination”.
My last gasp was pleading with her – couldn’t she see that there was a feeling, a soul to this place that she was only going to crush? Couldn’t she see that?
She told me I was making it about myself, like I made everything about myself.
My last words to her were:
“You’re going to turn this place into a fucking multiplex, and it’s a goddam drag.”
I think Quentin Tarantino is an incredibly talented filmmaker with his heart in the right place. He’s been my personal hero for several years – here’s a man who uses his celebrity in the best possible way – to insure 35mm will be around and to save a theater that both of us see as something extraordinary.
However, I think he has people working for him that aren’t serving his best interests.
He needs to wake up and see that these people are killing the very thing he is trying to keep alive.
For my dedication to the New Beverly, I am rewarded with no job, $47 in my bank account and a finished documentary film about a place that no longer exists.
Out of Print is a film I made about how important 35mm exhibition is and how special revival cinemas are – I illustrate this case with showing you ONE special cinema – The Bev.
I have been struggling to make this film since 2012, and am proud to say it is finally finished.
I was planning a big premiere at the New Beverly in January – on a 35mm print.
Obviously, that isn’t going to happen.
That’s why I have decided to let you all watch the documentary I made about the New Beverly Cinema – Out of Print – now.
I hope you will see first hand the enthusiasm I had for that place, and the passion I will always have for cinema. No matter what you think of the film, you can’t deny that my love for The New Beverly Cinema shines through.
And I hope it will encourage you to support that struggling mom and pop theater near you.
Embrace it while you can.
It may not always be there.
As for me, I have no idea what the future holds.
All I know is that I refuse to be censored anymore.
I feel like I need to give everyone an update of what’s been going on with the movie…sorry it’s so late, but I haven’t felt much like writing lately. Been in a kind of lethargic/super anxious haze waiting to see what will happen with Out of Print.
This is all stream of consciousness so forgive me if things are a little slapdash.
Man, I had no idea how brutal the whole film festival process was. As the film was rejected from festival after festival, my stress began to bulldoze higher and higher.
Hot Docs? No.
And so on and so forth. My redemption came in the form of the Sidewalk Film Festival,in Birmingham, Alabama where Out of Print will be premiering on August 23rd, followed by a panel discussing the importance of film preservation. My parents will be joining me, and I couldn’t be happier. Having them both there for my first feature film premiere is a fantastic feeling. I couldn’t have done it with out them.
So, the film will premiere at Sidewalk, and then hopefully I can screen it at the New Beverly before the year is out!?
After that, who knows? More film festivals? Distribution? VOD stuff? A tour of revival cinemas with the film on 35mm?
Yes, It’s true, I was able to make a 35mm print of the film, thanks to the incredibly generous help of Digineg, Deluxe, Kodak and Fotokem. I actually have a 35mm print of Out of Print!! So so so happy, and still rather startled – I had no idea going into making this film that I would one day be able to shoot AND show it on FILM.
While I have been sitting at home waiting for the rejection letters, like a draft dodger nervously checking the mailbox, I have been writing. When someone asks me what I am working on next, I want to be able to give them a wide range of options! So, in the works are:
3 documentary pitches
3 feature films scripts
1 television show pitch
It’s been a strange year because after the thrill of the Kickstarter succeeding, filming the movie, editing and getting all the bits and pieces together, you send it out to be appraised and then it’s kind of out of your hands. Its hard to keep the enthusiasm going (myself as well as the fans).
The film was officially finished in 2013 and I don’t think I had watched it all the way the through for a couple of months. There was a screening at Fotokem of my print 2 weeks ago and I watched it and thought “Oh, no. This is all wrong. I made the wrong movie – I should have edited this and that……” and so on.
I’m sure every first time filmmaker goes through it.
But I am so very excited to have it screen with a crowd – only close friends and family have seen the film so far – and i’m sure I will feel totally different about the film after that.
I hope it goes over well.
I kind of feel like I am standing on the tippy-toe edge of a cliff, about to jump off – and I have absolutely no idea what is waiting for me below.
My senior year of college, I lived with (still) my best friend, Marion Kerr. We lived in Irvine (which I am convinced is the Hellmouth), near a little video store called Gold Star Video, run by a sweet-faced woman named Peru. We decided to challenge ourselves to watch every horror movie in their horror section that year – and nearly succeeded – watching 175 out of 217. We watched a lot of terrible films (Halloween 3, Dead End Drive In), but also found some unheralded gems (Fade to Black, Final Exam) and we officially became horror junkies. Since she and I are pretty angel faced, we confused people with our blood lust – Peru was perplexed, and even Jackie Joseph, who we spoke to at our first Fangoria convention felt compelled to ask, “What are you nice girls doing here?”
We kept a notebook and wrote down info on every film – cast, quotes, popular horror themes (lead girl’s name ending in Y, someone calling “who’s there?”, topless chicks, etc). We clutched each other in abject horror during Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Last House on the Left. Marion fell off the couch she was so scared when Johnny Depp got sucked into his bed in the original Nightmare on Elm Street (still my have horror movie of all time). We were scared, but we also felt that with every horror movie we watched, we had a better chance of survival in case of actual events. We knew not to run down that blind alley, not to check the hallway with only a candle to light the way, to never say “I’ll be right back!” We felt proud that we sat through all of the Nightmares, Halloweens, Friday the 13ths, Hellraisers and Child’s Plays – even if most of them sucked.
To be honest, becoming a horror fan is one of the smartest things I have ever done. I’ve made incredible friends and gotten several jobs because of my enthusiasm for horror – including one at Second Spin, and one of the leads in Delta Delta Die! back in 2003. A Full Moon Feature, I was overly excited to get covered in a bucket a blood, and that I got to deliver possibly the best line in the film – (watch below at 1:30). Sadly, my career as a scream queen has yet to take off. (Even though I have a FANTASTIC horror movie scream).
I’ve never particularly understood why horror – nay, all film itself – it’s mainly a man’s game. At the New Bev I am constantly perplexed by the man/woman ratio (90% men on 90% of nights) – where are the other Julias? I understand that not everyone enjoys being frightened, but I find being scared a delight – it makes me feel alive – my heart pounds, my breath quickens, my hands clutch each other in anticipation – I love it. And, of course, watching horror films in the theater with an audience is the BEST way to see them.
I have been so disappointed in horror films lately – I have been trying to keep up, more or less, with modern horror but I hadn’t seen any movie within the last five years that had really rocked my socks – until this week. I decided to take in a double of The Quiet Ones and Oculus – two recent horror films I knew nothing about, save the posters I had seen around town. I was ready for disappointment – everything I had seen recently had been reductive, CGI filled and boring. Luckily, I was wrong.
The Quiet Ones gets extra points off the bat for being a new Hammer Film. Set in England in 1974 and “inspired by true events”, the film follows a small crew of students helping a slightly dastardly Oxford abnormal psych professor while he tries to prove that the young girl in his psychiatric care is merely insane, not possessed. Jared Harris does a snakily wonderful job as the professor, and Olivia Cooke is hauntingly beautiful as the disturbed girl, but it is Sam Claflin that stars as the shy cameraman, Brian, that steals the film. Because of the time period & set up, half the film is shown in 16mm – as we look through Brian’s camera – which of course delighted me. The film has some decent scares, and some nice twists – I look forward to seeing what else Hammer will be offering up in the next few years. And I am officially crushing on Sam Claflin. Hubba Hubba.
But the film that I really want to write about is Oculus – which blew my goddamn mind. It is one of the scariest, cleverest and well written horror films I have seen since 28 Days Later. And, of course, knowing absolutely nothing about it made it even more fun. (I am going to try to not spoil too much here, but some plot points will be revealed.)
Not since my favorite final girl Nancy kicked Freddy’s burnt butt has there been a heroine as incredible as Karen Gillan’s Kaley. She is beautiful, smart, and has spent 10 years devising a fool-proof plan to kill the demon that lurks inside the Lasser Glass – an antique mirror that has killed over 40 people in a very personal and horrific manner over the last 400 years, including her mother and father. Or is Kaley crazy, and did her parents just lose their minds? Either way, she has more booby traps and kill switches than you can shake a stick at, and she ain’t backing down for no one – not even her younger brother, Tim, who has been getting brainwashed at mental institution for the last decade. But she’s believably awesome – she hasn’t turned into a Sarah Connor type, but is going to win using her intelligence and street smarts.
The film jumps back and forth between two timelines – Kaley and Tim as children going through their parents downward spiral, as well as their present attempt to kill the evil – and it does so seamlessly. There are several astounding gore effects in the film that are terrifically squirm worthy, but the thing that makes the film so terrifying is that it locks into a fear I think every child has had at some point .What if your parents – the people you trust wholeheartedly for your security and well-being – went crazy. Like REALLY crazy. By tapping into this primal fear, the film knocks you off-balance and puts you back into the child’s mind – where monsters lurk around every corner and you wouldn’t dare leave the closet door open at night. Brilliant. And genuinely horrifying.
I had also never seen Karen Gillan before and I think I am in love. I am a straight woman, but she might be the most beautiful girl I have ever seen and she KILLS this role. I know Doctor Who fans are already on board her train, but I am signing up for a ticket here and now. I hope she becomes a big star because she fucking deserves it. Also, she chews an apple cuter than anyone else I have ever seen in my life.
I highly recommend Oculus – it got me excited for horror again, and that’s saying a lot. It’s inspired me to write a horror script myself – something I should have done years ago – that pulls from all of the horror knowledge I have accrued over the years. And if a movie can do that, i’d say it’s worth your $14 bucks.
Nothing has changed in my life – everyone I know is (thankfully) happy and healthy, I still have my jobs, and everything is cruising along normally on the surface.
Underneath that is me having maybe one of the worst bouts of depression/anxiety I have ever had. And the scariest part is I’m on two medications right now for depression and anxiety. And it is still absolutely crippling.
Before I go any further, let me say I have an appointment this afternoon to see a doctor and get this all sussed out.
But in the meantime…yesterday I could barely function, dragging myself as if I were a zombie to the gym and then to the grocery store. It was a friend’s birthday recently and I promised him I would make him a cake, so I robotically put one together.
I shouldn’t have gone to work and I should have called off my regular Monday movie night – that’s how bad I was. I would have done – but I had made the cake.
I ended up leaving movie night halfway through, which I had never done before, seeing as I am the host, but I couldn’t keep up the charade any longer – and I had been slumped apathetically in my boyfriend’s lap, so my charade – if I had any to begin with – had been paper thin.
I curled up in bed and waited for sleep. I just didn’t want to have to think or feel anymore.
This morning I woke up slightly better, but still in dire need of a doctor’s advice. So while I wait for my appointment, I am snuggled up on my couch under the quilt I made, sipping a Tab and watching Glee.
And Glee is making me so fucking happy.
And this, folks, is why people make art.
When the cast and crew behind Glee were filming, they would never know that one day a girl battling with severe depression would watch the show and find it a lone source of joy in a world otherwise completely overwhelming to her. And I think that every one of those actors, crew members and writers would probably agree that if their show can do that for one person, then all of it has been worth it.
I’m that person.
Thank you, everyone behind Glee. You’ve helped me more than you could ever know.
I turn 35 on March 18. I thought I would impart what wisdom I have accumulated thus far. If you can call it wisdom…
1. Don’t let other people’s opinions of you change the way you look at yourself. You’re awesome. Trust me.
2. Be kind to everyone you meet. You never know when they might pop up again in your life. But if someone is a dick to you, be a dick back. Fuck that guy.
3. Take good care of your teeth. You can have crooked teeth and have it be adorable, but no matter what, they should always be clean and white. When you haven’t flossed since the last time your mom made you its gross. Floss and brush and you don’t have to worry about your teeth falling out or heart diseaselater.
4. On a similar note, keep your nose hairs in check. No one like to look at protruding hairs – and the older you get, the more unruly they become. I highly recommend getting a nose hair trimmer – available for less than $20 at your local drug store!
5. Here’s my dating advice: If you see someone you think is cute, ask them out. The worst they can say is no. Even if they do, I promise you they will let you down easy and won’t say “Eew! NO!” You might waste an evening of your time with them if you don’t get along, but what’s one evening out of your life? And maybe you’ll gain a lover, a friend, or at least a good story.
6. Be considerate of others. Pay attention to the space around you. Other people deserve the respect you expect from them. Please be considerate when playing your music, using your phone, driving, walking around – Awareness, please.
7. READ. I devour books by the truckload. I love to learn and can’t wait to see what book is going to blow my mind next.
8. Be honest. Telling people what you really feel helps pretty much every situation there is. Which leads me to:
9. Pay attention to your instincts. When you meet someone and a little voice inside tells you that’s there’s something off about them, listen to that voice. Humans are amazing creatures and our body has a little defense mechanism built right in – that most people plow right over intellectually. You will save yourself from dangerous situations in every facet of your life with this.
10. The Beatles are the greatest band on Earth. If you don’t like the Beatles it is either because:
a. You haven’t listened to enough of their songs. You need to explore the deep cuts – there is a little something for everyone. I guarantee you that I can find you ONE Beatles song you would like, regardless of your music tastes.
b. You are contrary and reject them because everyone has told you your whole life that The Beatles are the greatest band on Earth. But if you let this go, you would actually like them. ( see letter a. above)
11. Converse were, are, and will always will be the coolest shoe on the planet. Black high tops go with absolutely anything, in any style. Preppy, gangster, punk, goth, nerd – Chuck Taylors know no societal boundaries. When I see someone wearing Converse I like them a little better.
12. Braces are a fucking scam. You will get your braces off and your teeth will be perfect. BUT YOU WILL NEED TO WEAR YOUR RETAINER EVERY NIGHT FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE IF YOU WANT YOUR TEETH TO STAY AS THEY ARE. Truth.
13. Life is too short to waste time matching your socks. The only people that see you in your socks are your close friends and family, so who cares? Oh, but the TSA guys at the airport are going to tell you EVERY TIME you go through that your socks don’t match. Humiliating-1984-esque body scans AND hilarious jokes? It’s almost too much to bear.
14. Punctuality. I am always on time. I think making other people wait for you is very disrespectful and suggests that you consider your time more important than theirs. I understand there are exceptions when you legitimately couldn’t help but being late, but 95% of the time you could have made it on time, you just didn’t.
15. Stand up for what you believe in. I felt so moved when I found out that movie studios were going to stop making 35mm prints that I felt compelled to create a petition to ask the studios to continue sharing their prints with revival cinemas indefinitely. It sparked a debate in film circles and lead to me making my first feature film. At first I wasn’t going to do anything because I didn’t think an online petition would make any difference – but then I realized that fighting for what i think is valuable is more important than how many signatures I got. I’m so glad I listened to that little voice. (See #9)
16. TCB. Take Care of Business. If you say you are going to do something, do it. Don’t hem and haw and maybe get to it two weeks later. After I raised the money on Kickstarter to make Out of Print, we were shooting the film less than a month later. I finished the entire film, soup to nuts in a little under a year.
17. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. You are just as important as everyone else and you deserve to be treated as an equal.
18. Movies – and the art of watching movies with an audience – is one of my very favorite things. Nothing makes me happier than being in a darkened theater surrounded by like minded people enjoying a brilliant film. End of story.
19. Don’t buy into your own hype. Living in Hollywood, I have seen folks get famous and consequently act as if they are suddenly better than you and too busy to be your friend, or are simply “ON” all of time. It’s exhausting and a major drag. True friends are ones that won’t agree with you on everything, but will tell you when you’re being a major chump.
20. Traveling is the best way to discover who you are. Seeing how the world works (or doesn’t, in some cases) and how everything around the globe is so different yet so incredibly similar is a real mind opener. Food, clothing, sights, weather, customs…the wonders of travel never cease. And when you return, I promise you’ll see your own life in a new way, too.
21. If a restaurant looks dodgy, the food is not good. I had been living my life by the old “Hey, it’s in a dingy shopping mall and the people looked shocked when I walked in the door and everything is covered in grease but maybe its a HIDDEN GEM” mantra. Folks, that mantra has failed me more times than I care to count. I could write an entire separate post about the abominable meals I have been served in Los Angeles. I’m an experimental girl and I love exploring the city and am always up for trying a new place, but ain’t nobody got time for lousy food.
22. No one wants to hear you complain. Not even your mom. Venting is a normal human response – I’m not saying keep everything bottled up inside – just don’t let your life become overwhelmed with negativity. If you spend just one day noticing how much you and the people around you complain, I promise you’ll want to cut back.
23. Always take the time to appreciate an amazing ass.
24. If you start a fight club and proudly walk around with a black eye as a woman, people will think you are a domestic violence victim.
27. Electric blankets are the fucking best. I wish I could time travel back to my childhood and tell myself to buy one, post-haste. Instead of shivering under your covers for way too long in the winter, just crank this little puppy up ten minutes before you jump in the hay, and you’re in for warm, snuggly heaven.
28. Cookie Butter is the life. Find me a substance more delicious than this – I double dog dare you.
29. Whether you are a very poor man or a very rich man, it is always in bad taste to talk about money.
30. Be wary of corporations and cities that white wash everything. They are out to kill your soul.
31. Whatever you fantasize about is okay. It’s in your head.
32. Love at first sight really exists.
33. Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know something. Ask. No shame in it whatsoever.
34. Stay away from talking about politics and religion.
35. Lastly, and most importantly. Just Be Cool. If everyone in this world was just Cool, think about how much better this world would be.
I love books that show up out of nowhere and strike you across the face with their brilliance.
There are two books in my life that I have serendipitously plucked from a bookstore shelf, taken home – where they absolute blew my mind and which I have consequently re-read every year and will continue to forever and forever, amen.
The first book was found just as I was about to leave for college – The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis. (That’s my much loved copy pictured above) I had never heard of it, but the cover design and title intrigued me and I felt pulled to it. It ended up totally and completely rocking my little socks right off. I had never read a writer with such a natural, casual voice and Ellis’ use of the multi-narrator format in the book opened my eyes to non-traditional narration. He doesn’t use it in a heavy-handed Crash kind of way, but allows the readers to piece together a truth for themselves from the varying snatches of reality from each of his characters. It also allows for a richer narrative, letting the reader into the thoughts of several of the characters, instead of just one.
A few years ago, there was a bit of a ruckus amongst Twilight fans when Stephenie Meyer’s half-finished manuscript for her novel, Midnight Sun, leaked online. She retaliated by announcing that she was abandoning the novel, to much disappointment from fans. Midnight Sun is Twilight told from Edward’s point of view, and from what’s available on-line, it’s really enlightening. Like everyone else, you may have asked “Why is Edward such an over-controlling asshole?” – being privy his thoughts, emotions and motivations in Midnight Sun make him seem more like a man in desperate love than a mind reading psycho. The publication of Midnight Sun would have changed people’s feelings on the whole series. In any case, I think it’s a majorly cool idea to write a novel in a series from a different characters point of views.
I have probably read The Rules of Attraction more times than any other book (with Valley of the Dolls coming in close second). It blooms and gets richer with every reading – references within the different narratives begin to overlap. All of Bret Easton Ellis’ books take place in a demented universe of his own creation; most of his characters criss-cross wonderfully, often popping up in one, if not all, of his novels. For example, Sean Bateman – one of the three main narrators in The Rules of Attraction – is younger brother to Patrick Bateman, aka American Psycho. They each cameo in the other’s books as background players. Ellis has built such a big world for himself to play in, its fun to see where he’ll go next.
Also, I love Ellis’ books because his characters are appalling awful – cold, vain, heartless bisexual nymphomaniac drug addled blood sucking vampires (sometimes literally). His characters are the complete opposite of me and I am fascinated by their twisted world. Ellis probably based most – if not all – of his characters off of people he knew in real life, including himself, god bless him. Go on wit yer bad self, Bret Easton Ellis.
The second book that I found – the one alluded to in the title of this post – only a month ago. I was intrigued by the title and cover, but the killer copy on the back cinched it for me:
“You hold in your hands a true lost classic, one of the most legendary cult books ever published in America. Jack Black’s autobiography was a bestseller and went through five printings in the late 1920’s. It has led a mostly subterranean existence since then – best known as William S. Burrough’s favorite book, one he admitted lifting big chunks of from memory for his first novel, Junky. But its time we got wise to this book, which is itself a remarkably wise book – and a ripping true saga. It’s an amazing journey into a hobo underworld; freight hopping around the still wide open West at the turn of the century, becoming a member of the “yegg” Brotherhood and a highwayman, learning the outlaw philosophy from Foot-and-a-half-George and The Sanctimonous Kid, getting hooked on opium, passing through hobo jungles, hop joints and penitentiaries. This is a chunk of the American story entirely left out of the history books – it’s a lot richer and stranger than the official version.”
William S. Burrough’s favorite book? Hop joints? The Sanctimonious Kid?! Sign me up! (Well done, copy writer at AK Press!)*
You Can’t Win is an autobiography by Jack Black (not that Jack Black) published in 1926. Jack dropped out of society at 14 in the late 19th century and grew up learning underhand skills like home burglary, safe cracking, opium smoking and rail riding from folks with names like Smiler, Soapy Smith and Salt Chunk Mary. “Blacky”, as he was called when he was on the road, was one of the “Johnson Family” and was a staunch member of the Yegg Brotherhood of Criminals.**
You Can’t Win follows Blacks journey in and out of jails (escaped from in both the USA & Canada), successful and failed burglaries, his decade long crippling addiction to opium and finally his friendships with fellow hoboes in jails and bum conventions throughout North America. That in itself would be an incredible book, but the craziest part (and this is no spoiler, he begins the book with this information) is that unlike most of the people we meet with Jack in this book, he was able to reform, become an upright citizen and end up as a writer and librarian.
Instead of spending his life wasting away as a hop head or getting blown away in a botched robbery attempt like most people he knew, Black realized that he could do society a service by putting his years of wrong doing to use by writing a book which laid out, in plain language, what was going through the heads and hearts of societies dropouts, and to remind people that in the end, even the lowliest criminal need love too.
Black writes in an efficient and conversational manner, and doesn’t sugar coat. He never tries to come off as the “hero” and tells his story with fondness and heart. Black gives a speech at the end of this book that may be one of the best end-of-book-speeches ever.
I loved this book so much that I knew as soon as I finished reading it (and re-read that fantastic speech a second time) that I must tell the world of my new-found favorite book. Please let me know if you read either or both of these and what you think of them. Also, I would also love to know about what books have rocked your world.
I’m always looking for a good book.
*The company that published You Can’t Win, AK Press, aka Nabat Books, is amazing and where I am going to be spending all of my birthday money. They’re so cool that prisoners can get any of their books sent to them for $10 and this is their bitchin’ manifesto:
“Nabat books is a series dedicated to reprinting forgotten memoirs by various misfits, outsiders and rebels. Nabat books are based on a few simple propositions:
That to be a success under current definition is highly toxic – wealth, fame and power are a poison cocktail; that era of triumphant capitalism that enshrines the most dreary human pathologies like greed and self-interest as good and natural; that the “winners” version of reality and history is deeply lame and soul-rotting stuff.
Given this it follows that the truly interesting and meaningful lives and real adventures are only to be had on the margins of what Kenneth Rexroth called “the social lie”. Its with the dropouts, misfits, dissidents, renegades and revolutionaries, against the grain, between the cracks and amonst the enemies if the state that the good stuff can be found.
Fortunately there is a mighty underground river of testimony from the disaffected, a large cache of hidden history, of public secrets overlooked by the oppressive conventional wisdom that Nabat books aims to tap into. A little something to set against the crushed hopes, mountains of corpses, and commodification of everything. Actually, we think this is the best thing western civilization has going for itself.”
** The Yegg Brotherhood is the idea that criminals aren’t lowly, brainless animals but men with character. Black says “The thief who goes out and steals money to pay back room rent rather than swindle his poor landlady has character. The one who runs away without paying her has no character…In the underworld one has good or bad character as in any other layer of society. The thief who pays off borrowed money, debts, or grudges has a good character among his fellows; and the thief who does the reverse has a bad character.” Fascinating stuff, honor amonst thieves…
***Just found out, while googling pictures for this post, that You Can’t Win has been made into a feature film starring Michael Pitt (?!) and will be released this year sometime. Don’t know how I feel about that….
I had a moment of pure joy today. I was sitting in my awesome living room in the rad Hollywood apartment I share with my amazing boyfriend, watching Glee on Netflix (I heart you Cory Monteith RIP), and addressing countless envelopes to send out the soundtrack to Out of Print for my Kickstarter backers. I looked up and thought – I am exactly where I want to be right now. I smiled and took a celebratory sip of my Mello Yello.
I have had a few film festival rejections the last few weeks – and they are no fun for anyone. And although I’ve had some bad days, I feel like a positive change is coming just around the corner. I feel like I am standing on the edge of a giant cliff, about to finally take the next step off into the unknown. Once Out of Print premieres and begins to gather up steam, my life is going to go in a crazy new direction – one that I am so excited to discover, no matter what happens with the film. The waiting to hear back from festivals has been killing me, but Ive taken this pent up energy and using it to write treatments as many ideas as I can – so that if, and when, I am asked “what I have coming up next” I will have lots of answers – A novel, a couple of screen plays, documentaries, a TV show, 35mm storage solutions, etc – so I feel like this stagnant period has actually been productive.
I am so interested to see if my film speaks to audiences and inspires them to seek our their local cinemas . THAT is the goal of my film. To show people how important community is when it comes to cinema. And to make every person who supported me along the way – all of my Kickstarter backers, my cast and crew, my friends and family, the folks helping me make my 35mm print, everyone – proud. When I first started working on this film, the thought of having to make all of these people proud terrified me. How could I possibility make a film worthy of everyone? But now I see that all anyone wants is for me to make the best film I can possibly make – nothing more. And I think I can say in all honesty that I made that film.
After waiting so restlessly for “my future to begin” for so many months, today really opened my eyes to the fact that by focusing on the future, I am missing out on just how groovy my present is. Living with the man I adore in a sweet Hollywood pad with all of the VHS and vinyl a girl could ask for, sending out CD’s of the soundtrack (composed by my amazing older brother) for the feature length documentary that I raised over $80,000 to make and which will make its world premiere in the next six months. Yessir. I’d say no matter what the future may bring, I’m a lucky girl – right now.